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January 16, 2018

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A calf-roping grandma and other contestants at the Senior National Finals Rodeo


Leila Navidi

Rodeo contestants show up during registration day for the Senior National Finals Rodeo at Horseman’s Park in Las Vegas Tuesday, October 4, 2011.

The strapping cowboys and cowgirls who thunder into the Thomas & Mack Center every December for the National Finals Rodeo aren’t the only ropers and riders who come to Las Vegas to compete for glory and trophies.

This week, Las Vegas hosts the Senior National Finals Rodeo.

Yes, such an event exists.

“We surprise people all the time,” says Chuck Bowling, the president of the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association, acknowledging that most people see rodeo as a young person’s sport.

The first SNFR was held in 1979, the product of a group of cowboys who recognized the need for an association focused on aging men and women who felt they could no longer hold their own against younger competitors. Since then, they have expanded to include more than 50 rodeos per year, including the annual finals, held in Las Vegas.

This year, the event runs Wednesday through Saturday at Horseman’s Park.

SNFR consists of all the competitions seen at typical rodeos, including bareback riding, barrel racing and calf roping. The only major differences are that competitors must be at least 40 years old and competitions are broken into age groups.

Bowling says the ages of participants range from just-turned-40 to mid-80s. While many have wrestled, roped and ridden in rodeos throughout their lives, he said, others were introduced to the events much later in life.

“We have had people who knew nothing about the rodeo until they retired, then they started,” he said, adding that people fall in love with the strong sense of community and the traveling.

So just who are these mysterious men and women of the SNFR? Here are a few of this year’s competitors.

    • Senior National Finals Rodeo Preview
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Ricky Lambert

      Age: 40

      From: Wiggins, Co.

      Competitions: Calf roping, ribbon roping, team roping

      Quotable: “A lot of people think we are hard on the animals, but we put a lot of time and money into them. The rodeo is based in ranching. It’s a sport, sure, but it’s also a way of life.”

    • Senior National Finals Rodeo Preview
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Kenny Heinze

      Age: 57

      From: Corey, Co.

      Competitions: Bareback riding

      Quotable: “I have been on horses since I was 3 or 4, competing since I was 16 and 17. I still get just as nervous now as the first time I competed.”

    • Senior National Finals Rodeo Preview
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Susan Perry

      Age: 60

      From: Pemberton, British Columbia, Canada

      Competitions: Barrel racing, ribbon roping

      Quotable: “These aren’t individual sports. You have everything from the vet, to trainers, to your buddies in the stable. I travel a long way for these competitions and there are people who help me out. They’ll cook for me. The support system here is amazing.”

    • Senior National Finals Rodeo Preview
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      John Birks

      Age: 52

      From: Australia

      Competitions: Bareback riding

      Quotable: “I have retired (from competing in rodeos) four times, but there is no life after rodeo.”

    • Senior National Finals Rodeo Preview
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Donna Shedeed

      Age: 75

      From: Hermosa, S.D.

      Competitions: Team roping

      Quotable: “When I turned 40 I went to an old-timers rodeo and they looked and me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ That was a good thing to hear!”

    • Senior National Finals Rodeo Preview
      Photo by Leila Navidi

      Dusty Miller

      Age: 63

      From: Comanche, Texas

      Competitions: Calf roping

      Quotable: “If someone’s horse is hurt, we will lend them a horse. Everyone here is a good sport about it, but it does get competitive.”

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